When a pastor comes to a new church there are always those who give that person a rundown on the type of people that are there to be encountered. The most important item of information is relative to the type of person who is running everyone else down.
In my case, I felt relatively confident because the information relative to Hugh John was coming from Sheila McCrea-MacCallum. I had known Sheila for years and she had shown constant interest in my own life and always an abundance of encouragement.
She told me in eloquent terms that Hugh was a person who cared for others. What a wonderful tribute to a man, to be able to say that he cared for others. She encouraged me to connect with him and to go with him to see some of the sick or shut-in. I had the privilege to do that with Hugh on several occasions.
I was pleased when he invited me to my first Men’s Birthday Breakfast. At that time, we met at the Fredericton Inn. There were 8-10 men there at that meeting. Currently 3 to 4 times that many senior men are a part of this group.
In my first days as pastor, Hugh coached me fairly regularly. It was a little frightening at times. He had some very negotiable ideas about church and leadership. I remember the pattern of our meetings. He would come in with a little shop talk and then he would take out his list and smile.
“I always need to bring my list.”, he would say.
And we would work our way through it, item by item. I listened respectfully, looking for points of agreement rather than disagreement. Many times Hugh’s concerns were those types of things that made me uncomfortable and yet they were good for me to hear and to consider.
One morning, testing the communication waters, I told him that I felt that I was in the principals’ office when he came to see me. He couldn’t believe it and told me that he didn’t want me to feel that way. I never did again.
As time went on, the lists kept getting shorter and shorter and then ultimately disappeared. I gradually began to realize that I was one of those people that was “being cared for” by Hugh John.
At one “post list” breakfast, the two of us sat at the Diplomat for breakfast. He had fought his first few opening rounds with cancer treatment. Things were better than the initial news suggested but Hugh even then was not going to leave details uncared for. We sat there that day and he told me about purchasing the headstone for his grave and we talked about the order of service for this occasion today.
I never tasted a thing that I ate that morning. Choking back tears and choking down food was one of those experiences that I will never forget. I realized by then that not only was I being cared for, I was beginning to care very deeply for this exceptional man. Thinking about his passing was something that I was not prepared to do.
Like others I was very much impacted by the manner in which Hugh faced his own mortality. I have prayed since that God would allow me grace when I need it to face the end of earthly days with confidence in God, not false bravado but deep abiding peace and trust and hope.
There may be others here today who are in process as well. You are wondering what the future holds and it is creating anxiety within.
As we talk today, allow me to share some observations around the life that we celebrate that may help you to appropriate spiritual resource in your own life to make living more vital to the very end.
1. I believe that Hugh saw the Reward of Relationship.
The greatest reward of the Christian faith is to experience the heart of God.
· It is not the answer to any particular prayer. Are you always looking for the prayer jackpot? It is in the experience and adventure of prayer that we discover the heart of God – and the grace to accept the course of our days. We learn that we are not our own. The Bible says that we have been “purchased”.
"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20, NIV) 
In the times of our lives when things don’t turn out as we think they should, it is the strength of this relationship that sustains us.
What kinds of things do you find yourself praying for?
There are times when God intervenes supernaturally. We rejoice in these times but we quickly forget and we regress to worry and fret in the face of the next obstacle. We fail to learn the enduring lesson that God can be trusted.
I stood a couple of days ago, in the check out line at a local convenience store/gas bar and watched the all too familiar tragedy of misplaced hope play out before my eyes.
A gentleman in front of me was giving his money away for some game of chance. I wondered how many times before he might have stood at this counter and others to purchase some very faint glimmer of hope. Hope that the future might somehow be better than the past. Hope that more money would improve the quality of his living. Whether we pay for the ticket at the gas bar or trade our lives in the marketplace, it is still a long shot that fate will treat you well.
People make these transactions every day. Our government supports the vice that we engage and we grow poorer in practice and in spirit as a people. It’s the hope that by chance alone, today may be different. Maybe today it will be their turn. It’s kind of a quiet desperation, a confession that life isn’t sufficient for them as it is.
So we submit ourselves to the god of good fortune, the god who picks your number out of the many.
And the God of eternal things? Not a chance. We are looking for a deity who will keep all that is unpleasant from our lives, give us all that we deem good and leave us alone until we need something that we cannot supply.
· It is not to see the miraculous. Seeing miracles doesn’t change people. It may impact them for a time but memories fade too quickly. Like the man who has survived open heart surgery and forgets the diet that he is supposed to maintain for the rest of his life if he wishes to prolong it. It is a personal encounter with Christ that makes us forever different. Never the same again.
· It is not to gain a place of advantage over life or others. Serving Christ does not guarantee that we will be temporally blessed more than any other man. Nor does it guarantee that we will be spared difficulty or tragedy or pain or discouragement.
Hugh had a sense of relationship with God that was sufficient in and of itself. This kind of experience never changes with circumstances.
2. I believe that Hugh knew the Recipe for Relationships.
He understood the “not-so-secret” recipe. He lived out of a sense of obligation to God and his people rather that a sense of expectation.
“I have no reason to complain.”
I don’t know how many times I heard him repeat this and it never lost it’s impact with me personally.
I am told that in any relationship people keep a list of expectations. High maintenance relationships are the result of an individual who has a long list of expectations for the person who is their friend or their spouse or their . . . whatever.
The oft neglected list that many never consider is the list describing the obligations that we feel to any given relationship. People who get along well with others have an over developed sense of obligation to others and an under developed sense of expectation. If you want relationships that work you need always to feel a greater sense of obligation, the “obligation list” needs to be longer than the “expectation list”
Hugh clearly felt a greater sense of obligation to God than a sense of expectation from God.
I believe that Hugh’s life was guided by this sense of great obligation. He loved His Savior and nothing came before that relationship.
I don’t think he kept records of the good that he did. Many of us are tempted to do that. The more we believe our own press the worse we become and the more difficult to live with. Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. It is an elevated awareness of others. Do you know why some people have a hard time remembering names? That’s because that’s as much as they wish to know. Hug was desperately interested in others. He always had a specific question relative to particular circumstance in my own life. “How’s Elaine’s job going?” “How is Kristie doing at Bethany?”
3. I believe as well that Hugh knew the rich Reward of Relationships.
A person’s life is made richer by the relationships that he/she sows.
Hugh has for years supported our college kids. He had a particular concern for those who were heading toward vocational ministry. Every fall that I have been in Fredericton, Hugh has made a personal financial investment in these lives. Only God knows how many times over this investment will be increased.
The Men’s Birthday Breakfast will represent a relational legacy for Hugh. The 30+ men who gather monthly are a testimony to the importance that Hugh attached to relationships. You see, a person does not grow to become like Christ apart from others whoa re trying to do the same thing. And somehow those who try our patience are as necessary as those who are total blessing.
Some are derailed when they are failed by people. They run away and feel justified in the process. A spiritually mature person learns to love the faulty, wrinkled church. This does not mean that they settle for church as it is or fail to pray for something better.
“Karl, there are lots of things about my church that I don’t agree with but as long as people are coming to know the Lord and the kingdom is being built then what difference does that make. I haven’t always been like this. I’m not complaining because it’s been worth it.”
You see, when we face these times of sorrow and loss it is not the reality of God that is in question but the reality of our relationship with Him. It’s not a question of whether or not the church lives up to my expectations. It is a question of relationship. With God and with His people, the church.
A person’s faith, the depth and reality of their relationship with God is fully revealed when times get tough. It is in these times that we discover it to be real and adequate or we find ourselves in despair.
Largely this is because we have cultivated the sort of relationship with God that allows us to trust Him through the pain or we discover that our relationship has been “transactional”, a reciprocal agreement. We honor God as long as things seem to be going our way.
A transactional relationship with God must at some point give way to a trust-based relationship if a person is to find an enduring faith.
 The Holy Bible : New International Version. electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984.